“I Love It When Men Talk About Pork.” COMICS! Sometimes You Just Got To Keep On Killin' 'Em All 'Til All The Killin' Is Done!

In which I look at some PunisherMAX comics. But not the PunisherMAX comics everyone likes. That would be too easy. No, these are the other PunisherMAX comics. The PunisherMAX comics no one ever mentions. The PunisherMAXes Garth Ennis didn’t write. Those PunisherMax comics.  photo Pmwttbstartb_zpsnnh5rv7v.jpg PUNISHER: FRANK CASTLE MAX by Parlov, Gischler, Loughridge & Petit

Anyway, this...

1) Half-Hearted Apologia:

So, yeah, I took a break which was fun. Except I have been following the news. We’ve got a General Election on, doncha know. Apparently The Tories are going to win despite the fact they make Norsefire look cuddly and their leader displays all the charm and humanity of Lady Darkseid; while their manifesto is centred around foxhunting and taking old people’s homes off them to sell to Lady Darkseid’s husband’s mates. Look I’m not saying the political class in this country are a shitshow but I’ve heard they are such a shitshow a bunch of shitshows are starting a Kickstarter to sue them for defamation of shitshows everywhere. They make shitshows look bad is what I’m saying. What I’m also saying is I’m a bit out of sorts and so for solace I turned to a big man with a gun shooting his problems in the face.  Because I am civilized.

2) PunisherMAX: What Has Gone Before.

 photo Pmwttbshowb_zpsedqohozx.jpg PUNISHER: FRANK CASTLE MAX by Parlov, Gischler, Loughridge & Petit

Despite sounding like an unwise purchase from a dispenser in a night club toilet PunisherMAX was a pretty good little run of comics. (The title of the comic varies for reasons known only to the minds at Marvel©™®, I've just left it as PunisherMAX because that joke wouldn't have worked.) Garth Ennis reined in his playground bully humour and delivered, via the art of many partners,  a masterpiece of incrementally increasing horror. Starting off unpromisingly with brayingly unfunny crap like testicles in a paper cup, the series quickly transcended the oafish drollery of Marvel Knights Punisher by presenting essentially the same story but, and it really worked this, each time everything was that bit more appalling, until it all ended in a future so post apocalyptically awful that only the magnificent Richard Corben could do it justice. His story having being told Ennis jumped ship. Which is uncharacteristically wise behaviour from a comics writer, it must be said. But Marvel©™® weren’t giving up a critically lauded cash-cow that easily. So the book limped on under a number of writers. That’s ungenerous of me. While these issues pale in comparison to Ennis & pals’ nightmarish epic, well, so do most comics. Taken as their own thing these issues of PunisherMAX are pretty entertaining Thug With A Gun stuff.

3) It’s Not Sordid, Ma! It’s Purgative!

 photo PMwttbfeetb_zpshai5t3gc.jpg PUNISHER: FRANK CASTLE MAX by Parlov, Gischler, Loughridge & Petit

There’s not really much point gussying it up, The Punisher isn’t literature, was never meant to be literature and is highly unlikely to ever be literature. The whole ethos embodied by The Punisher comes from a bad place. And I don’t mean Brooklyn. Wacka wacka wacka! The Punisher comes from that subterranean pit of the male psyche that wants violence to solve everything, and to be the biggest dick in a world of big dicks. The Punisher is the poster boy for the inadequate revenge fantasy in all of us. Even those who aren’t white or male. We’ve all been hurt and felt the lesser for it, and we’ve all wanted to fuck that fuck’s shit right the fuck up. But most of us don’t. Because we can’t. But Frank can. In these issues Frank faces off drug traffickers, monied sociopaths and inbred hicks. And he fucks aaaaaaall their shit up. Of course two seconds later the vacuum left by these corpses is filled by other drug traffickers, monied sociopaths and inbred hicks. Frank forever crops the Weed of Evil but he never pulls out the roots. Because that’s complex stuff, the kind of stuff that requires social funding, education, rehabilitation programmes, investment in social infrastructure and a genuine push to eradicate the inherent inequality of a social system which rewards the few at the cost of the many. That’s not really Frank’s bag. He does do as much good as a nutter with a gun can, though. Fair’s fair.

4) The Men Who Aren’t Garth Ennis.

 photo Pmshtkrunb_zpslrizzt63.jpg PUNISHER: FRANK CASTLE MAX by Lacombe, Swierczynski, Staples & Petit

It’s an interesting roster of writers too; all taken from the Crime section of the library. No strangers to chewy macho action these guys. Obviously I’ve not read them, because that would require some degree of professionalism, but I did look at the titles they have penned. Greg Hurwitz has The Kill Clause, Troubleshooter, Bullet Fucker, etc; Victor Gischler has Shotgun Opera, Gun Monkeys, Kalashnikov Suppository, etc; and Duane Swierczynski has Revolver, The Wheelman, Vegan Cooking For Busy Moms, etc etc.  All burly, well-ripped titles which suggest that though they may sit behind desks these guys could crack concrete blocks with their cocks. It looks like these guys are the guys (and they are guys) who write the sweaty meats in the carvery of literature. The kind of thing where some dude (and it is usually a dude) with a harrowing past still somehow manages to be superhumanly capable in the violence stakes when push comes to shove. And push is forever coming to shove. The kind of stuff mechanics would have had rolled up in their oil stained back pockets in gas stations all across the American Past. In the American Present they are read by men who know what a latte is, and think a harrowing past is that time the wifi acted up and they couldn’t smoothly stream that episode of Veronica Mars involving the cupcake and the chimp. Times change but men don’t, is what I’m getting at there. Men will always want to be able to punch through someone’s skull so hard they wear the luckless chump’s face like a glove. And to be right in doing so.  All men. Rabbis and Social Workers too. Particularly Rabbis and social workers. Especially Rabbis and Social Workers. I don’t mean to be a misogynist prick but I imagine women are different to men in this respect. Maybe not, I’m not willing to speculate. But men? I know whereof I speak. And being a man I am not immune to the sweaty charms of these comics .

5) At Long Goddamned Last The Actual Comics (Cue Fanfare!): 

GIRLS IN WHITE DRESSES PUNISHER (AKA PUNISHERMAX) #61-65 Art by Laurence Campbell Written by Greg Hurwitz Coloured by Lee Loughridge Lettered by VC's Cory Pettit Covers by Dave Johnson The Punisher created by John Romita Snr, Ross Andru & Gerry Conway Marvel©™®, $ 2.99 (2008)

 photo dressescovs_zpsfukxgwoh.jpg

First up we have ‘Girls in White Dresses’ which is one of those festivals of testosterone where a poor Mexican town has to get some violent gringos in to sort out their problems. This kill riff goes back at least to The Magnificent Seven (1960), maybe further. (I don’t really have time to look into the tenacity of the “America as Saviour of Mexico” genre. But I do know it was done best in The Three Amigos (1986)) In this case of course the Mexican town in question requires the help of a singular gringo, Frank Castle. Frank doesn’t need six companions, because friends are for the weak. More like the Feeble Seven, eh Frank? Frank Castle just needs to know two things: where the bad guys are and what’s the name for that depression between your nose and top lip. Keeps him awake at nights that does. That and the memory of his dead wife and kids. (It’s the philtrum, Frank. Sleep that bit easier now, old warrior.)

 photo Pmgwwdvanb_zpsutc7gpz5.jpg PUNISHER: FRANK CASTLE MAX by Campbell, Hurwitz, Loughridge & Petit

It’s full of the usual butch silliness right from the start, like the way Frank spots his tail because he is wearing a big cowboy hat. (So if you ever do tail a psychotic ex-‘Nam mass murderer, a big cowboy hat might not be the best headgear to go with. Every day is a school day.) Also nice was the way Frank reins himself in from killing the tail because under the hat is an old man. Old men are of course completely harmless. I guess Hurwitz has never seen The Wild Bunch (1969), Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) or ever been in the vicinity of Pappy Kane when he’s that way out. It’s good that Frank stays his hand because then el anciano is able to petition him for aid and thus the comic doesn’t end suddenly. For as is traditional in the America-Helps-the-Mexicans genre the village has scraped together less than you spent on an iPad to sweeten the pot; those poor backward fools never realise that Americans will help Mexico because Americans are Awesome, rather than for the paltry financial reward on offer. After all America is Mexico’s friend; well, except for that time it just up and stole Texas, and that whole Wall business and the way it is constantly interfering with “observers”, and the way it never actually helps in any constructive way whatsoever…other than that though, America wuvs Mexico so very, very much. Unmoved by the financial lure Frank says no, because it’d spoil the suspense for when he appears later to help them despite having said no. Because I know I for one was honestly expecting the next three issue to show the drug traffickers riding roughshod over the community with the odd cutaway to Frank shining his shoes or searching NETflix for something to watch (Housebound (2014) is fun, Frank) or rollerblading in denim cut-offs. Whatever took his fancy really.

So Frank turns up and kills everyone who is bad. THE END.

 photo Pmgwwdgunsb_zpsl29t9qn3.jpg PUNISHER: FRANK CASTLE MAX by Campbell, Hurwitz, Loughridge & Petit

Okay there’s a bit more to it than that. Hurwitz takes a thoroughly well-worn set up and chucks in some grisly bits to give it some oomph. Among the gruesome touches on show are the fact that  the women kidnaped by the drug traffickers are being returned stitched up like knock off teddies, Frank has to dig up a kid’s corpse and then dig a bullet out of said dead kid (which was particularly nice) and there’s a simply darling bit of business involving a pet shark. (Yes, a pet shark.) Unfortunately all that good work is slightly undermined by a few tricks nicked from substandard action flicks. It’s possible that on screen Frank’s charge through multiple sheets of drug glazing would work, but on the page it’s a bit listless. (But Campbell nearly makes it work visually, to be fair) And you’d have to be fourteen and merry on cheap cider to take the old throw-a-roll-of-coins-at-the-crane’s-controls-to-drop-a-heavy-thing-on-the-bad-guys bit seriously. It’s a bit too sub-Seagal to play is that part. However, there’s been some research done; or at least I think there has, I’m not going to check but apparently cat litter is used in the production of narcotics (and also for cats to do their cat business in, if the bad guys have an actual cat) and manufacturing narcotics is bad on your eyes and lungs. (Seriously the working conditions are appalling, someone should make it illegal.)

 photo Pmsharkb_zpsvdiz9kbv.jpg PUNISHER: FRANK CASTLE MAX by Campbell, Hurwitz, Loughridge & Petit

Oh, and in a weird sop to normal Punisher continuity it turns out that the Big Bad is Jigsaw. Jigsaw is Frank’s only(?) recurring villain because Frank is tough on his villains. I find Jigsaw a bit dull, personally. Jigsaw’s big thing is Frank fucked his face up.  Other than that he’s just a bad man. Bit of a nutter to boot (i.e. his Jigsaw has some pieces missing!) This being MAX Jigster’s also a bit rapey, but mainly he’s just a “bad hombre” as your PoTUS might have it. There’s a lot of build up as to who the Big Bad will be and the payoff is dependent on visual punch, which is unfortunate as Campbell’s splash page reveal is of a man leaning over a desk with what looks like a sooty face. I thought it was maybe a new villain, “Sooty Face”, but no they were scars and it was just Jigsaw.  Which is a problem with Campbell’s approach to art. Drawing over photo reference is all special and modern and that, but scars deform the surface of the skin around them; they aren’t just straight lines laid over a face. You can get away with drawing straight lines on a face if you are drawing everything from the ground up, because everything is obeying the same inherent visual laws, but just scribbling on someone’s face makes it look like someone has a face that’s been scribbled on, like they fell asleep during a frat party or something.  But Campbell does do pretty well overall, even though his approach is not my favourite technique. He certainly knows how to balance his panels, which is super-important if you’re going to rely on the landscape format (see also: Goran Parlov). There’s some nice stuff going on, and the page where Frank is hidden in the patterns of a bush like a malevolent optical illusion is pretty great. And even a colour dunce like myself can tell that Loughridge knows when and how to make things pop. Both here and in Welcome To The Bayou Loughridge artfully displays the blunt impact of the solid red backround beautifully. Girls In White Dresses is GOOD! But really, for the price of the TPB you could probably pick up Don Winslow’s Power of The Dog and The Cartel, which together do the whole America/Mexico drug thing but with the sweep of Ellroy’s American Tabloid while also managing to mix in some historical veracity along with the pantomime machismo.

SIX HOURS TO KILL PUNISHER: FRANK CASTLE MAX (AKA PUNISHER AKA PUNISHERMAX) #66-70 Art by Michel Lacombe Written by Duane Swierczynski Coloured by Val Staples Lettered by VC's Cory Pettit Covers by Dave Johnson The Punisher created by John Romita Snr, Ross Andru & Gerry Conway Marvel©™®, $3.99 (2009)

 photo sixhourscovs_zpsfbdbpktl.jpg

Here we have Frank plugged into the Race Against Time trope. Children will be familiar with this from the timeless Crank sequence of movies (Crank (2006), Crank 2: Crankier (2009) and Crank 3: Crankiest (in production)), adults will know it from Speed (1994) and Speed 2: Cruise Liners Aren’t Very Fast (1997) and the elderly will, after much prompting, recall DOA (1950; remade 1988). I  Imagine it was meant to be a very cinematic outing this one, but as is usual with such comics it just made me want to go on an outing to the cinema.  I guess Swierczynski panicked a bit because it’s far too overstuffed for the simple premise. And such premises thrive on simplicity. Consequently what should zip swiftly along kind of lumbers stolidly towards a not entirely convincing denouement. (I have always wanted to use the word “denouement”; I can die happy now.)

 photo PMshtdfaceb_zps8hlrrnzm.jpg PUNISHER: FRANK CASTLE MAX by Lacombe, Swierczynski, Staples & Petit

A quick peek behind The Wizard’s Curtain: I don’t tend to write these things with the actual comics to hand; I have to snatch time where and when I can and smoosh it all together later, hoping I pick up on repetitions and inaccuracies. And to be quite frank (hohoho) I’m struggling to remember the intricacies of this particular plot.  Start the clock and let's go: There’s a mayor whose future is threatened because his cousin in law has been running a kids home as a paedo pick’n’mix (and this shows how long ago this comic was written; today politicians can set kids on fire in full public view and then mount the still twitching corpse and people will just shrug and say, yeah, but, immigrants, yeah but, dole scroungers, yeah but, my house isn’t on fire, yeah, but Gogglebox is on, yeah? Remember when politicians used to resign? When was the last time a politician resigned?  About an hour ago should be the right answer, but it isn’t.  Whatever happened to accountability? Oh, John! You’re such an old-fashioned chap! Get on your penny farthing, granddad, and fuck off back to the past!) Er, so some rich dude who is in the mayor’s pocket (or who has the mayor in his pocket) decides to off the mayor to avoid being torpedoed with him, and he chooses to use Frank Castle, so that no one else gets covered in shit when the mayor goes down.

 photo PMshtkpubb_zpsphhpm0bx.jpg PUNISHER: FRANK CASTLE MAX by Lacombe, Swierczynski, Staples & Petit

So there’s this rich dude, his sex addled sister, a brain wrecked ‘Nam vet cum-politico and a techy geek who injects Frank with a drug which will kill him in six hours - unless he offs the mayor there’s no antidote for Frank. Then, amusingly, Frank immediately goes off message and tries to maximise his kills given his time limit and the amount of ground he can cover in that time.  That was genuinely pretty funny and really caught the monomania of the character. Almost funny enough in fact to distract from the fact that if they’d just let Frank know the mayor was up to his nuts in kiddie fiddling then Frank would have given them a freebie, you know, without all the magic drug farting about. Anyway, then there are these ex-cops who pretend to be real cops so they can off Frank (because Frank doesn’t kill cops) but Frank senses they are not real cops, but, wait, there are also real cops after Frank, and so Frank has to stop these cops dying when they get caught in the crossfire with the fake cops or it might be some angry gangbangers. I can’t really remember, but there were...shriners? And maybe some put-out girl scouts, and maybe some Japanese soldiers who had been hiding in a hot dog stand in Times Square unaware the war had ended? It’s all gets a bit silly. Yeah, I know it's The Punisher, but there's silly and then there's just silly. And this ends up just silly. Just that bit too goofy for me, I guess. Lacombe does well though, given the overly large cast there's a total lack of confusion, and he handles the set pieces well; they have a real sense of space and an admirable clarity of staging. The only real clanger is when people have multiple facial contusions it looks more like they are sporting a tasty crop of boils. It's a pretty good art job though, not unreminiscent of Cannon and Ha's work on Alan Moore's Top Ten. But, you know, with a shit ton more violence and implied fellatio. Aw, it was OKAY!

WELCOME TO THE BAYOU PUNISHER: FRANK CASTLE MAX (AKA PUNISHER AKA PUNISHERMAX) #71-74 Art by Goran Parlov Written by Victor Gischler Coloured by Lee Loughridge Lettered by VC's Cory Pettit Covers by Dave Johnson The Punisher created by John Romita Snr, Ross Andru & Gerry Conway Marvel©™®, $3.99 each (2009)

 photo bayoucovs_zpszn1yzqxb.jpg

This one is just junk. Unapologetic trash.  Just...trash. It’s great. Basically, and I do mean basically, it involves Frank wandering into a ridiculous Frankensteinian patchwork of grindhouse horror movies. There’s a bunch of spring breakers who make a fateful pit stop , a cannibalistic family , a giant gator, a deformed nutter in bib overalls with a sack on his head, bbq cannibalism and probably a whole bunch more of such sophisticated cinematic concoctions I failed to pick up on. It’s not exactly spiritually enriching stuff. In short it’s trash as I said above. Crucially, though, it’s well done trash. Sure there’s much flagrant mugging of other people’s ideas, but it’s so blatant it’s kind of disarming, and they reconfigure everything into at least a semblance of freshness: things take a neat early twist with Frank outclassing his congenitally evil enemies to the extent that expectations become upended, and he seems the monster and they the prey. But sure as eggs is eggs genre will out, and it quickly reverts back to factory settings. It’s brutal, tasteless stuff with a light comedy glazing, all given the appropriate tone of flip goonery by Parlov’s sure handed blend of ludicrousness and realism. Frank himself looks more like a raybanned update of Carl Critchlow’s Thrud The Barbarian than anything that ever drew breath in reality. And the way Parlov controls the pacing and flawlessly connects with the jump scares is evidence of genius at play on the page.  Sure, the outcome of the story might never be in doubt, but Parlov & Gischler consistently give your expectations a good hard Glasgae kiss. Ayup, Frank sure has to jump through some (Tobe) hoop(er)s in this one. Welcome To The Bayou knows what it is and runs headlong with it into a secluded thicket of VERY GOOD!

 photo Pmwttbfaceb_zpsyjb9dpkj.jpg PUNISHER: FRANK CASTLE MAX by Parlov, Gischler, Loughridge & Petit

Weirdly, despite its obvious borrowings the only movie anyone mentions in the story is Deliverance, which is aiming a bit high since that was written by the poet James Dickey and not, say, Ray Garton. Mind you, despite Deliverance being written by the 18th United States poet Laureate, most people do tend to remember it as just a classy survivalist flick. That’s folk for ya. What a lot of people who’ve seen Deliverance don’t know is that Dickey saw active service in both WW2 and the Korean “Police Action”. Maybe the nascent poet, awaiting his next nightfighter mission, propped his ass on a crate and uncurled a battered paperback of  Punisher-esque he-man nonsense. I like to think so, and I'm sure the current purveyors of he-man nonsense considered above would echo that sentiment.

6) Concluding Remarks:

In the future no matter how advanced we as a species become somewhere there will be a man scratching his ass and smelling his fingers. And there's probably some value in that.

NEXT TIME: Will it be a message from a freshly birthed Socialist Utopia or the same quasi-fascist and morally diseased Selfish State? Either way it'll involve - COMICS!!!

“Droids Don't Knock.” COMICS! Sometimes The Darkest Judge of All Is Judge Critic!

Not wishing to set a precedent here but in response to a reader comment I look at a volume of IDW’s JUDGE DREDD. There’s little, if any, toilet humour in this one. I've got all that out of my system (tee hee!) But if you like icy disdain then bring your skates because we’re doing figure eights! Or maybe I liked it. Ha, Ha, just kidding.  photo AWODshowB_zpsbhdibqy7.jpg JUDGE DREDD by Daniel, Swierczynski & Lee

Anyway, this… JUDGE DREDD, VOLUME 5: THE AMERICAN WAY OF DEATH Art by Nelson Daniel, Steve Scott Written by Duane Swierczynski Coloured by John-Paul Bove Lettered by Shawn Lee Originally published as JUDGE DREDD #17-20 IDW, $17.99 (2014) JUDGE DREDD created by Carlos Ezquerra & John Wagner

 photo AWODcovB_zpsg2uidkm5.jpg

For a few years now IDW have had the licence to produce original Dredd comics in America, and these exist distinct from the (more familiar to me) UK Dredd canon, which is currently handled by Rebellion. Theoretically IDW are in a pretty advantageous position; they get to start from scratch without any of the early mis-steps of the original strip (Maria! Non-Judge policemen! Mick McMahon thinking Dredd was black!) and can cherry pick plots and characters from an impressively fecund near-40 years of ideas and concepts pre-tested in the fieriest crucible of the imagination  possible – British children’s minds. Alas, it gives me no pleasure whatsoever to report that on the evidence of this volume IDW have bungled it quite badly. I wanted to like this book; I want to like every book I read. Whatever kind of creature it is which knowingly seeks out things it dislikes, that is not the kind of creature I am. (Unless it’s DKIII: TMR because, seriously, **** that garbage.) JUDGE DREDD VOLUME 5: THE AMERICAN WAY OF DEATH is not a disaster, but like many a Tory given all its in-built advantages it’s a disappointment.

 photo AWODarghB_zps272rertf.jpg JUDGE DREDD by Daniel, Swierczynski & Lee

Thanks mainly to Nelson Daniel's lively cartooning (and frequent use of a function on his PC which replicates that dotty stuff I like so much) as I read the book I was enjoying it, but the further I read that enjoyment was progressively undermined by some pretty basic gaffes. Not least among these was the utter disregard with which the volume treated potential new readers. Like, uh, me. It’s pretty staggering; as though IDW expect everyone to have read Vol.s 1 thru 4 thirty seconds before they cracked the covers on this one. Would it have broken the bank to use a page to provide a cast list and a “What Has Gone Before…” paragraph? (No, it wouldn’t.)  I’ve read Dredd for longer than is admissible in mixed company so, yeah, I know who Judge Janus and Judge Omar are, and why they can talk to each other using unanchored thought balloons (helpfully colour coded pink for a girl and blue for a boy like this is fucking Bunty or something) but does Chet in Omaha, who has never read a Dredd before? (No, Chet doesn’t. Look at his big simple face; he hasn’t a clue.) Of course, it’s not so much the basic set-up of Judge Dredd as a series I’m talking about; just looking at the book effectively communicates the fact that it takes place in The Future, Judge Dredd is a Cop and Things Are Less Than Rosy. Dredd’s a pretty direct concept. With the exception of Mark Millar & Grant Morrison most sentient creatures can pretty much pick up “Judge Dredd” so easily it’s almost as though it’s by osmosis. No, it’s more the set-up of the story herein itself which is the problem.

 photo AWODchokeB_zpsjtnkpemx.jpg JUDGE DREDD by Daniel, Swierczynski & Lee

Essentially this doesn’t read like a complete story but like a section in a larger story. Which is fine, very sexy, very modern, very Television and all that but Christ, people, context counts. And context here is sorely lacking. Although the book is ostensibly about Dredd vs. The Dark Judges, some fuzzily defined business about two people who have swapped bodies (in a previous volume, I guess) keeps barging its way to the fore like a drunk on a bus. This is a problem, as I picked it up for The Dark Judges, and if you want me to be more interested in some other story that’s already half over you’ll have to put your back into it. Unfortunately, Duane Swierczynski doesn’t. He is, I hasten to add, professional enough to convey the essentials of the situation (a man and a woman have swapped bodies, one of them was a Judge, and the Judge swapped bodies so that the other party would go to Titan (the space prison for Judges) instead). Sure, Swierczynski manages to smoothly integrate all that into the text and I can think of plenty of Red Hawt Comics Writers who would have skinned their knees at even at that low hurdle. But, c’mon, being better than the worst isn’t good enough. Beyond the basics there’s no deeper insight into the situation proffered e.g. the relationship between the two people, how the swap occurred or even what crime the Judge committed. Let me put it in terms a writer would understand – when you go to a meeting with some people “in” Television what’s the first thing everyone does? Introduce themselves! The smile on your face tells me I’ve been understood.

 photo AWODeathB_zpswwdjv72e.jpg JUDGE DREDD by Daniel, Swierczynski & Lee

It’s unfortunate that Swierczynski  seems to have elected to tell this other story with the The Dark Judges acting as merely a spicy backdrop, because this means he doesn’t really develop that bit either. The book starts and The Dark Judges are running amuck in Mega-City One because, uh, because…of something that happened in the previous volume? (Chet’s really flailing now, IDW. I don’t think you’ve won him over. He’s looking wistfully at the TV.)  For some inexplicable reason Swierczynski has decided to add a bunch of new Dark Judges as well. I know we’re always moaning that people don’t create stuff anymore but, you know a) there’s a time and a place and b) it still has to be good. These new Dark Judges are totally unnecessary and utterly underwhelming in comparison to their antecedents. I mean Nelson Daniel draws the balls off them, there’s nothing wrong with his designs at all; they are fresh, funny and not a little icky as befits a concept which straddles the sinister and the silly as deftly as that of The Dark Judges.

 photo AWODbigB_zpsgsojk82o.jpg JUDGE DREDD by Daniel, Swierczynski & Lee

It’s a tough gig adding new Dark Judges, a bit of a poison chalice really. Especially since even the immediate additions post Death’s first appearance (Fear, Fire and Mortis) do, in retrospect, have the whiff of Brian Bolland’s having done some sweet character designs which were just thrown in to spice stuff up. Personally, Judge Death’s enough but there’s so many of the buggers now that even he’s barely in the book. Remember when you went to see BLADE: TRINITY and there were all these other people in it and Ryan Reynold’s abs vying for screen space? But you had gone hoping to see Blade not all these other people, and certainly not Ryan Reynold’s abs? It’s like that. A bit. There are so many Dark Judges, and the book is so slim that most of them only really get a scene to establish their shtick, and if they get more than that then it’s because the plot requires them to do something to propel it along. The action’s disappointing too, with Judge Dredd (points awarded for him being written as suitably curt and street-smart rather than a thick thug) strolling about dispatching his enemies with incendiaries. It's hardly Sun Tzu is it now? Mind you it’s hardly a permanent solution but then again the permanent solution is somewhat problematic. It’s problematic in the sense that it seems pulled from Duane Swierczynski’s backside. It hasn’t been of course. Obviously, this solution is a call back to events in an earlier volume but since there is no indication of this in the text it all seems bit random and dismayingly abrupt. (Chet’s started digging for gold up his nose and I don’t think he’ll be back, IDW).

 photo AWODliveB_zpsqhdowxbt.jpg JUDGE DREDD by Daniel, Swierczynski & Lee

So even Nelson Daniel’s fizzy Charlie-Adlard-but-with-a-pulse performance can’t save what is basically a Freaky Friday re-run with cameos from The Dark Judges. In the hellish future world that is The Savage Critics Judge John is The Law, and Judge John’s verdict is that JUDGE DREDD VOLUME 5:  THE AMERICAN WAY OF DEATH is EH!


 photo AWODfistB_zpsrrgerbzf.jpg JUDGE DREDD by Daniel, Swierczynski & Lee

Judge Blank is: A) A mysterious teleporting entity which acts in opposition to the other Dark Judges.

B) A plot device used to get people from one far-flung location to another.

Answer: A)

Judge Fistula is: A) A blobby looking chap who links people together by impaling them with lengthy fleshy barbs.

B) A Scouser who issues sexual threats at passers-by (“I’m gunna fist you, la’!”)

Answer: A) (Now, I’ve not been graced with a fistula (“an abnormal or surgically made passage between a hollow or tubular organ and the body surface, or between two hollow or tubular organs”) but I do know what one is (see preceding note) and this “Judge Fistula” thing seems a bit tenuous. You may disagree. From the pages of sketches and notes in the back of the book it seems Duane Swierczynski was going for a Human Centipede effect. Since the whole Human Centipede effect depends on someone having their mouth sewn to a stranger’s arse and here we just have some people stood dazedly about connected by flesh sticks I think he missed that effect. I think “Judge Tumour” might have been better but again, that’s just me.)

Judge Skinner has: A) Had his lyrics discussed in an Oxford Professor of Poetry lecture by Sir Geoffrey Hill.

B) No skin and can remove the skin of his victims by magic.

Answer: B)

Judge Sleep is: A) A lady Judge who causes irritating gummy secretions in people’s eyes, which harden and can be really tricky to get out even if you use your little finger and get right on in there. Hot water and cotton wool are the cure.

B) A lady judge who puts people to sleep forever.

Answer: B) (Which sounds more like Judge Coma to me but there you go, I’m not a writer like Duane Swierczynski so what do I know.)

Judge Burroughs : A) Shoots wives in the head "accidentally" and fantasises about naked sailors hanging themselves in sufficient quantities that the resultant terminal ejaculate makes it look like it is snowing.

B) Burrows like a mole. (Brring! Brring! Brian Azzarello called, he wants his wordplay back.)

Answer: B) (He also looks like a mole, albeit a skinned one which, look, okay, moles do burrow, I’ll give you that,  but I’m kind of hazy on their connection to death. I’m struggling to think of any culture which has the mole as a totem of death. I’m flawed; I’ve watched a lot of bad movies where “nature fights back”, but I can’t think of even one where moles start acting up. Rabbits and worms, yes, slugs even, but moles? I’m drawing a blank here, to be honest. Maybe Duane Swierczynski’s got an allotment and moles got into his lettuce last summer and he still bears a grudge. Judge Burroughs is stupid is what I’m getting at there.)

Judge Sludge is: A) Made of Sludge and able to spray victims with a dense emission.

B) Evidence that inspiration can fail us all.

Answer: A)

Judge Metastasis is: A) an ever increasing giant composed of people subsumed into its bulk, all of whom are ruled by one mind; a searing commentary on the mindlessness of the mob.

B) the result of someone reading Clive Barker’s In The Hills, The Cities at a formative age.

Answer: A)

Judge Stigmata is: A) Able to sidle up to people and charismatically induce them to wound themselves.

B) An attention seeking hairdresser who gives priests who look like Gabriel Byrne boners.

Answer: A) (Unfortunately, and I take no pleasure in pointing this out, this is not actually stigmatism as the wounds do not appear spontaneously and nor do they conform to those said to have been endured by Jesus Christ. Those, you know, being the defining elements of stigmatism. What we have here in this book is hypnotically induced self-harming. I know it seems picky but there you go. Again, no writer I.)

Judge Choke is: A)  A somewhat hazily realised comment on the self-destructive  nature of smoking. (Okay, maybe he just straight up chokes people on smoke. Design-wise anyway, Judge Choke definitely looks like Ghost Rider after a light summer shower.)

B) An insecure actor who corners people at parties and, in an increasingly hysterical manner as the evening wears on, and the drink gets sunk, points out that although appearances in drearily unexceptional production-line Marvel©® movie fodder have made him rich he just really, really needs you to know that there’s just so much more to him than that; what with him having once directed a movie adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s Choke. Struggling to stay conscious victims stab themselves in the leg with those cocktail sticks you put the tiny sausages on, eventually expiring from blood loss.

Answer A)

Judge Judy is: A) a TV program my Mum watches during the day because she is retired and that’s her choice; she’s worked hard and she’s earned that right.

B) a cheap joke on my behalf to see us out.

Answer: A) and B)

NEXT TIME: I don’t know. Do you think I actually have a plan? Probably this week’s 2000AD and a couple of other – COMICS!!!

"Plus, I Was HIGH As F***ing S***." COMICS! Sometimes Justice Is Like A Cop Who Gets Shot In The Face, It Must Go Hooded!"

Half-term's over! So, at the risk of sounding like I’m the kind of guy who smells like wet newspaper and breathes like his nose doesn’t work, I took a look into Archie’s Dark Circle. Putting my trademark amusingly poor intimations that I am talking about peering up a man called Archie’s arse aside for the moment let's consider that Black Mask comic that came out not an incredibly long time ago.  photo BMStartB_zpsjdevwxtz.jpg THE BLACK HOOD by Gaydos, Swierczynski, Deering & Fitzpatrick


BLACK MASK #1-2 Art by Michael “Gay Deer” Gaydos Written by Duane “Scrabble” Swierczynski Lettered by Rachel “One Shot” Deering Coloured by Kelly “Irish Pants” FitzPatrick Cover by Howard Victor “Flashdance” Chaykin and Jesus “Wept” Arbuto Archie Comic publications, $3.99 each (2015) Black Hood created by Harry “Mama's Little Baby Loves” Shorten in Nineteen Goddamn Forty

 photo BMCoversB_zps4kmvn8di.jpg

I guess my LCS sent this because Howard Victor Chaykin did the covers; it certainly isn’t because I’m a fan of Archie Comics.  In fact I’m not even going to pretend I know anything about Archie Comics and, frankly, while I am paid a King’s ransom (a really unpopular king judging by the ransom) to do this I’m not paid enough for me to bother doing any research. It seems though that until recently Archie Comics survived far longer than anyone had any right to expect by producing amiable exercises in non-threatening nostalgia. This nostalgia was of a very American stripe and centred largely around milkshakes, paper crowns and perpetually deferred troilism. However, a few years back someone at Archie (hopefully someone actually called “Archie”.) realised Eisenhower was dead, Korea was never going to actually officially surrender and people of all colours could now use the drinking fountains. Basically, it was time to move with the times and, without ever actually having read any of their stuff, it seems they’ve done a pretty decent job. Archie Comics proper continue on but now with gay people and gun crime, and for the teen crowd there’s Archie versus zombies (with added patricide and pet sadness) and Sabrina versus Leatherface, Pumpkinhead and Cthulhu.  Well, maybe something like that, because as I say I haven’t actually bothered to read any of that stuff. Despite Archie Comics taking the absurd approach of putting some thought into what they’ve done and employing talented, creative people this seems to have paid off for them with success both in sales terms and critical reception. I certainly hope no one learns from their example!

 photo BMDogB_zpsxzrpd1ku.jpg THE BLACK HOOD by Gaydos, Swierczynski, Deering & Fitzpatrick

So, Black Mask is produced under Archie’s Dark Circle imprint. Archie’s Dark Circle is, as I just said, part of Archie Comics’ ongoing revelation that  Zap! Pap! Pap! comics aren’t just for people who eat mashed beets anymore! Yeah! Fuck the fucking fuck off, Pops, because Dark Circle is for slightly older teens - being basically Archie’s version of Marvel’s MAX. Here, within Archie’s Dark Circle (hurr!), people are free to do what they want to do; provided what people want to do is say “fuck a doodle doo” and get shot in the face. Black Mask is a character I have no history with (e.g. I was unaware until 30 seconds ago that Rick Burchett did some pretty sweet work on the character back in the ‘90s) so I just read this comic like any other jackass. Is it true to the character? I don’t know. There it is -the kind of quality reviewing that keeps you coming back.

 photo BMFighta_zpsdc3u0ycl.jpg THE BLACK HOOD by Gaydos, Swierczynski, Deering & Fitzpatrick

Physically these issues are pretty unpleasant things with the cover stock being disagreeably tactile; like the scratch pad on the side of a box of matches. Ugh! Nice art though by Howard Victor Chaykin on my covers. Inside it’s Michael Gaydos doing his very best “Tonight, Matthew, I’m going to be Alex Maleev…!” In fact someone should go check on Alex Maleev to see if he's okay. Michael Gaydos' art here is so much “Alex Maleev” it's not entirely beyond possibility that he fried Maleev up with some onions to ingest his essence. Y'know, like they used to do in primitive cultures, mostly around Brighouse. Look, cards, table and all that; Gaydos’ art isn’t a style I like, which doesn’t mean it isn’t any good, it just means I don’t like it. Here it’s basically the same style as Alex Maleev - all photo references and digital manipulation. To my eyes it all looks like a collage where the elements don’t sit quite right, locations are sparsely peopled, the acting veers from corpse-like to boggle eyed mania and inertia constantly presses a pillow over the face of any sense of motion. It's kind of like fumetti but with scribbling on top. (In Italy (Ay! Caramba!) I hear fumetti means all comics but I’m not in Italy, so here I just mean photographic comics. I’m very popular in Italy so I wanted to avoid any confusion amongst my Italian fans. Auf Wiedersehen, mes amis!) Unluckily for Gaydos I was reared on the revived Eagle with its Doomlord fumetti and, y’know, Alex Maleev & Michael Gaydos aren’t fit to touch the hem of Doomlord’s spangly space gown. Scribble on Doomlord and he'd take you down with a hot blast from his ring. Honestly, the art’s fine; I’m just old. Sometimes you’re just old, and shouting “Just try fucking drawing!” says more about your ossified tastes than the work at hand, so you're probably as well just waving it through and keeping schtumm. The style wasn't to my taste but it was well executed. Man, this is some even handed shit I’m doling out today. Take a picture!

 photo BMSwearB_zpsj2wb0y5o.jpg THE BLACK HOOD by Gaydos, Swierczynski, Deering & Fitzpatrick

Really, old man carping aside, the photographic realism underlaying it all is a good choice because I get what they are after. Yeah, I get what they are after; they are after communicating a real sense of place, that place being Philadelphia. Grounding the somewhat outré events in a hyper mundane setting isn’t a bad idea at all. Because these are some seriously outré (French for “out there”) events. Usually I get my wattles flapping over the, uh, “languorous” pacing of modern comics but here I think maybe Black Mask goes a bit too fast. Sure the hustle helps you crest the speed bumps of disbelief but the brisk pace tends to rush past stuff better dwelt on. It feels like Swierczynski is trying to get to a place where he can start his story proper, but I think he’s got enough of a proper story here already.  Hopefully he’ll develop some of the stuff he’s touched on because faceache’s partner is just there, the lady is too nice, faceache’s back at work a bit quick (would you even go back to work in that state?), the drug habit is a bit “comic booky” (it only has consequences when narratively required) but, but, but, you know, shit’s happening. I mean, we’re two  issues in and more has happened than in a year of most books. In the second issue the bad guys have already framed our protagonist with a combination of cat burglary and Unknown Soldier level mimicry. These pivotal bad guys just appear and do their job and while I don't want to see them quipping at each other for six bloody issues before they actually do something it's all, y'know, a bit sudden. The book goes for an odd tone – a little bit grounded but with plenty of pulp daftness. Our hero is one unlucky sumbitch and while I'm not going into it much to avoid spoilers, well, I’m not saying they lay it on a bit thick but I was waiting for a scene where he caught his balls in a drawer while looking for his socks. And it...works. I'll give it that. Beyond his plotting and tone (which is due to Gaydos in great part) I liked Swierczynski's writing. By which I mean his writing writing – the words. Not so much the dialogue, which is okay in that real-people-don't-talk-like-this-except-in-movies-but-let's-pretend-they-do way, but rather the narration. This is in that flat style crime books favour but Swierczynski doesn’t pare it back so much it’s like the narrator’s got neurological damage (“I pulled the trigger. And I didn’t stop until the fast things stopped coming out. My shoes are brown. Cake is nice.” (Brubaking as it’s called; it’s a joke! Lighten up, or you’ll get lines on your face!)) (Hard) boiled down as it is Swiercynski, retains a sense of character, and that's no small writing trick to pull.

 photo BMFightb_zps5maah9dr.jpg THE BLACK HOOD by Gaydos, Swierczynski, Deering & Fitzpatrick

Oh yeah, so going back a bit, the creators are clearly all about a convincing real world setting. Philadelphia is, apparently, real. (I know! You come for the scans but you stay for the facts!) In the letters column Duane Swierczynski says that apparently some people call it ‘Killadelphia’. Having endured certain other people’s backmatter in the past I suspected a bit of, um,over dramatizing there but, because I am a fair man, I googled it and, yes, Philadelphia is apparently “the murder capital of the USA”, which is some kind of achievement. With, no doubt, a heavy heart indeed Duane Swierczynski makes the place look even worse. People love that don’t they? There are going to be letters galore for this book, and I bet you a night down the Bingo not one (Not. A. Single. Solitary. One.) will say “Actually, there are some very nice bits of Philadelphia, and to be honest I don’t think you’re doing the place any favours at all.” No, it’ll all be about how the letter writer had to kick their way through piles of burning dogs to get to their LCS and how they were stabbed ninety seven times just cleaning the oven and ,damn, if Black Hood hasn’t just captured to a tee the filthy depravity that is every square Hellish inch of Philadelphia (motto: “Stay the fuck away!”) Bunch of lightweights, I say. Check Basingstoke out sometime: everyone there uses each others faces as toilets – out of choice! So, yeah, people are weird; people’s pride manifests in strange ways, but it always manifests in some way. I think it would be a mite healthier if the creatives involved took pride in having made an enjoyable and decent comic. If you enjoyed Alex Maleev’s work on Daredevil but wished it was better written Black Mask might well be the book for you. Black Mask is GOOD! I'll probably keep getting it – result!